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March 14, 2010

‘Predators’ on the loose in Texas — the hunt is back on

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Predators poster

It’s a big weekend for “Predators,” the promising Fox film that began the ramp-up to its July 7 release with a sneak peek at South by Southwest in Austin. I just got off the phone with the film’s director, Nimród Antal, and he seemed to be pulsing with enthusiasm.

“This is gasoline,” the filmmaker said using an appropriately petroleum-based description for the film’s building buzz at the Lone Star State gathering.”We’re very excited.”

Antal is coming off the 2009 film “Armored” which did not go over well with critics although more than a few pointed out the filmmaker’s flair in the ultimately disappointing heist movie. If the L.A. native needed a mentor, he’s certainly got one with this revival of the well-known sci-fi franchise; “Predators” is a product of Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Texas and Rodriguez came up with the story. Antal said the property and the producer made this a dream gig for him.

“I grew up with ‘Predator,’ I loved it, I had the poster on my wall and it was a big thing for me,” he said. “And working with Robert was amazing, he was unlike any other producer I’ve ever worked with. It was intimidating at first but it was a gift as the work went on. He knows when to leave a filmmaker alone and when to help, it was great for me.”

The first “Predator” film, released in 1987, was directed by John McTiernan (who would go on to “Die Hard” and “The Hunt for Red October“) off a script by Jim and John Thomas. It starred not only Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers but also the signature work of creature-creator Stan Winston and his team. The plot: An elite commando team goes into the jungles of Central America to rescue some kidnapped airmen but find they are the prey of an alien creature with advanced technology who has come to Earth on an interstellar hunting safari.

The movie is one of the best-regarded sci-fi action films of its decade and its alien hunter proved so popular that he and his kind popped up in three more films (“Predator 2” in 1990, “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” in 2004 and “AVPR: Aliens vs Predator — Requiem” in 2007) as well as in comics, video games and toys.

“Why was that first movie so special? If I could answer that I would bottle it up and sell it,” Antal said. “There were so many elements that came together. It was like a really good band playing together. If one person is off, it doesn’t work but when everybody is on, it’s just magic. It was excellent film making by McTiernan, you had Arnold, the score, Stan Winston, the script. It was magic.”

The sequels, well, they weren’t nearly as special and Antal said the reason was “bad choices” when it came to tone. “The later movies lost the tension and the suspense of the hunt. They whole building the stress up during the hunt and the big reveal of the alien was lost as the movies went along. You see more and more of the alien and get less and less of the mood and tension.”

(SPOILER ALERT: THE NEXT PARAGRAPH HAS PLOT INFORMATION ABOUT THE NEW FILM)

The new film wipes much of the slate clean and, in narrative, goes back to a point not long after the events of the first film. The aliens, surprised to find that one of theirs has been killed on Earth, want to study humans in a controlled environment and so they pluck killers of different sorts (convicts, organized-crime killers, mercenaries, etc)  from around the globe and take them to a preserve environment where a new hunt begins. The film stars Adrian Brody, Topher Grace, Lawrence Fishburne and Alice Braga as the confused humans who are suspicious of one another and not exactly team players. More than that, they find that there may be a serial killer in their own ranks as they tramp through the underbrush one step ahead of their high-tech hunters.

“They are all predators in their own right and they are at each others throats,” Antal said. “We’re expanding the mythology but we’re also making a stand-alone film. And, I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but when it comes to imagery that not one of the previous can come close to. I’m very proud of the way the film looks.”

Those are big words from Antal and fans will take them seriously and deliver their own verdict. Welcome to the jungle, Mr. Antal, the hunt is on. . .

— Geoff Boucher

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